Writing Plainly for Goodness Sake!
Have you ever read a document that has puzzled you with confusing words or vague instructions? If so, you are not alone. Most likely, the writer did not use plain language.
Before sharing why I am passionate about using plain language principles, let me explain a little about “plain language.” In essence, plain language is
- Using certain good communication principles to make information clearer to people, who are not specialists in your field.
- Making written communication useful to your intended audience, so they can find the information they need, understand it, and use.
- Following the law, specifically the Plain Language Act of 2010, which requires government agencies to produce communications that the public can understand and use.
At the same time, I want to note that plain language is NOT
- Dumbing down concepts or talking down to your audience.
- Shortening your writing a bit (although that is a big part).
- Writing for adults with low education. Jargon, poorly written instructions, and overly long documents frustrate highly educated adults as well. By the way, writing for adults with low reading or English skills is known as “Simple English” or “Clear and Simple,” which I consider an important subset of plain language.
Why am I passionate about plain language? As a writer and editor, I value producing materials that serve the audience’s needs. Communicators should use language to express ideas and bring people in rather than to confuse readers and shut them out. This is what often happens when we let jargon take over in our writing and speaking.
Therefore, I see plain language not just as a set of very solid communication principles, but as a mindset that seeks to serve the reader. With this mindset, I put the needs of the audience over mine, I respect that people don’t have time to read dense documents, and I use a respectful tone.
On that note, here are a couple of my favorite plain language resources.
- The Center for Plain Language (http://centerforplainlanguage.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the use of plain language in government, legal, medical, insurance, and other communication. Their site has a great blog and guidelines on plain writing principles. (I am a member consultant.)
- Plain Language.Gov (https://www.plainlanguage.gov/), while mainly for federal employees, has many useful examples of clear writing along with guidelines.
Finally, I want to share with you that Gold Apple Services will start offering webinars, including “Using Plain Language Principles for More Effective Communications,” which I conducted last month for Maryland Nonprofits (https://marylandnonprofits.org ). If you would like more information, please email me at cmcampbell@GoldAppleServices.com.